Radford foremother and survivor of Indian captivity Mary Draper Ingles and other Southwest Virginia women will be commemorated on Capitol Square in Richmond this year.
Nearly 30 of the 230 women whose achievements and contributions are to be memorialized at the newly opened Virginia Women’s Monument lived and worked in counties stretching from Roanoke to Tazewell.
“Women have played a very important role over the 400-plus-years” of state history, Librarian of Virginia Sandra Treadway said. “But their contributions have not been acknowledged on the public landscape. The monument begins to set that right.”
The Virginia General Assembly established the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission in 2010 to add a monument to the Capitol that would memorialize the contributions of women across all regions of the state over four centuries. The 19-member commission developed a plan to add a granite plaza and 12 life-size bronze statues of women to the square, which until now has been dominated by statues of a dozen men.
Two of the new bronze statues will represent Ingles and Smyth County businesswoman Laura Copenhaver. The names of about two dozen other Southwestern Virginia women have been inscribed on a “Wall of Honor.”
It took eight years to develop plans for the monument. Titled “Voices from the Garden,” the $4 million monument includes names inscribed on “tempered glass panels, a metaphor for the social filter that has long obscured women’s accomplishments from public view, provide space for the names of additional important women of history, with room to add the names of women of today and tomorrow,” according to the monument website.
The first four bronze statues have been funded and are being fabricated now, Treadway said. They represent Cockacoeske, a Pamunkey chieftain; Anne Burras Laydon, a Jamestown settler; Virginia Randolph, an African-American educator; and Adele Clark, an artist and suffragist.
Each statue costs $200,000. About $100,000 has so far been raised for the Ingles statue, according to the Virginia Capitol Foundation. Fundraising will continue until the monument is completed.
The nonprofit foundation is dedicated to the preservation of the Virginia Capitol and the historic governor’s mansion and is a major sponsor of the monument.
The Library of Virginia, as the state’s archive, has been integral to the process. Treadway said she’s “hoping when somebody encounters a name, they’re encouraged to find more information.”
The library, located a short walk from the monument, will host exhibits to help visitors explore the stories and contributions of Virginia women, Treadway said.
A formal dedication is set for Oct. 14 in Richmond.
Notable Southwest Virginia women to be commemorated on the plaza include:
- Ella Graham Agnew,
- the first woman to receive a field appointment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a cooperative extension agent at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Tech). She was founding president of the Virginia Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs in 1919. In 1933, Agnew became the Virginia director of work relief activities for what would become the Work Projects Administration. Tech’s Agnew Hall is named for her.
- Laura S. Copenhaver,
- the Smyth County entrepreneur will stand among the dozen statues. Her work inspired the establishment of the Konnarock Training School to provide elementary-level academic and religious education for Smyth County children. As director of information for the Marion-based Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Copenhaver helped in the development of the region’s agricultural economy. She founded Rosemont Industries in her home, where she hired women to make a wide variety of domestic textiles sold to customers in the U.S., Asia, Europe and South America.
- Charlotte “Pinky” Giesen,
- a political pioneer,
- served as the first Republican woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and was the first woman on Radford City Council. A Radford native, Giesen — born Charlotte M. Caldwell — joined City Council in 1954 and won a seat in the General Assembly three years later, representing Radford and Montgomery County. In Richmond, she advocated for restrictions on closed governmental meetings and records and called for study of Virginia’s tax structure.
- Dr. Laura Jane Harper
- was Virginia Tech’s first woman academic dean and the founding dean of the School of Home Economics, which evolved into the present-day College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. During 31 years at the university, Harper became a nationally and internationally noted nutritionist, educator and equal rights advocate. As dean, she organized the School of Home Economics, initiated doctoral programs, recruited minority students and spearheaded the drive to build Wallace Hall. Harper Hall on the Tech campus is named for her.
- Mary Draper Ingles,
- the famous Montgomery County pioneer. She survived the 1755 Shawnee raid on the Draper’s Meadow settlement in present-day Blacksburg and captivity in Kentucky, later escaping the Shawnee and trekking 500 miles through the wilderness to Giles County. After her return, she and her husband ran a tavern and ferry on the New River near present-day Radford, which was a major stop for travelers pushing west to the frontier.
- Orleana Hawks Puckett
- first served as a midwife in 1889, when no doctor or other midwife could be found for a Carroll County neighbor. Puckett soon began traveling around the region, sometimes as far away as 20 miles, to deliver babies. She never charged for her services and became known throughout the area for her compassion and skill, having never lost a mother or baby during the more than 1,000 deliveries she attended. Today, the Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, works to promote and strengthen child, parent and family development.
Historical information for this story came from Virginia Tech, the Library of Virginia and The Roanoke Times archive.